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71 min. English.

Over the course of two years in California City, a huge, eerie planned city in the desert that is cut off from Los Angeles by a mountain range, Victoria unfolds, en passant, a city map that eludes orientation: we see time passing, sandy streets being tended to, kids on their way to school and hanging out. Out of documentary images and phone videos taken by Warren, the protagonist, virtual views and a voiceover of his diary entries, an image of the city and a city of images are formed in parallel. The construction of reality becomes visible here, as does its potential for the poetic: a turtle race in the desert sand, fountains that gush from burst pipes, memories of Los Angeles surfacing during a virtual stroll with Google Maps, black holes as gateways to another galaxy. (ab)

Sofie Benoot was born in Bruges, Belgium in 1985. In 2007, she completed a master’s degree in Audiovisual Arts, specialising in documentary film, at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels. She now teaches there.

Liesbeth De Ceulaer was born in Diest, Belgium in 1985. She studied Audiovisual Arts, specialising in documentary film, at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels.

Isabelle Tollenaere was born in Gent, Belgium in 1984. In 2007, she earned a master’s degree in Audiovisual Arts, specialising in documentary film, at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels.

Adventurers, gold seekers, stranded people

It started with an anecdote, a story picked up somewhere. About a city in a desert, California City, which hadn’t fulfilled its promise (yet) to become the third largest city in California. Driven by curiosity to this unfinished place, we ended up there together and found ourselves going back regularly during four years. In search of what our film might become, in this place always coming into being. We met countless people, stranded in California City. People who started over, seekers of gold and fortune.
That’s how Lashay came across our path by chance, or better still, how we walked onto his, and we hit it off immediately. Even though we don't share the same background, there and then we shared the same place and a bond developed. A commitment rose because of the temporarily shared space, as well as a mutual fascination for and empathy towards each other, and the longing to make a film together.
Lashay told us about a violent past which he had trouble leaving behind, about his new life in California City, and about his dreams of the future. About what it’s like to grow up in America as a young black man. About how hard it is to break away from a predestined and strongly limited socioeconomic reality. We discovered Lashay’s playful personality and his enormous creative potential. How he injects the often disappointing reality with a dose of fiction – the creative approach to his identity, by continuously imagining a different self, a different future.

Forget about the past, reinvent yourself
This notion of reinventing oneself, of leaving behind a past life and starting anew somewhere else, is an old pattern that is typical of the West of the United States. Namely, of California, since the journey of the pioneers, with the desert landscape as a (seemingly) blank canvas, ready to be painted with fresh stories. Forget about the past, reinvent yourself, as if it were fiction.
California City is such a place that captures the imagination, with its labyrinth of crumbling streets, somewhere between wilderness and civilization. A place that invites you to write a new story. We thought up VICTORIA there, a film where Lashay’s reality and imagination as well as our own imagination could meet in an unconstrained way.
We saw how Lashay travelled on foot across California City and the freedom that it expressed. Lashay doesn’t care about pre-planned paths and constrictions, and looks for his own way, he decides where and how he moves somewhere. It inspired us to transform his walking into wandering, which would become the heart of our film. Lashay, a contemporary pioneer, “always moving towards something better”. We asked him to keep a journal, about his new life in his new home. The idea being that his journal could later be found and read, like the early pioneers’ journals. This way, he and his words gain extra weight. They become valuable testimonies of a meaningful period in history, he becomes a part of history himself. With his footsteps, Lashay makes his own trail, he writes himself in the landscape, claims it. He belongs to this new world and this world belongs to him. (Sofie Benoot, Liesbeth De Ceulaer, Isabelle Tollenaere)

Production Bo De Group. Production company Caviar (Mechelen, Belgium). Directed by Sofie Benoot, Liesbeth De Ceulaer, Isabelle Tollenaere. Cinematography Isabelle Tollenaere. Editing Sofie Benoot, Liesbeth De Ceulaer, Isabelle Tollenaere. Music Lashay Warren, Annelies Van Dinter. Sound design Kwinten Van Laethem. Sound Liesbeth De Ceulaer. With Lashay T. Warren, Sharleece Bourne, Mark Martinez, Ernest Dove, Markiece Glover, Elliot Lacey.

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Sofie Benoot: 2007: Fronterismo (40 min.). 2010: Blue Meridian (80 min.). 2014: Desert Haze (110 min.).

Liesbeth De Ceulaer: 2008: The Best Act on the Isle (35 min.). 2013: Behind the Redwood Curtain (70 min.). 2018: Er Was Eens (52 min.).

Isabelle Tollenaere: 2007: Stil Leven (17 min.). 2010: Trickland (18 min.). 2011: Viva Paradis (17 min.). 2015: Battles (88 min.). 2018: The Remembered Film (17 min.).

Photo: © Caviar

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